Hospitals and the healthcare sector in Estonia are near melt-down due to soaring coronavirus numbers, and reaching disaster-level stage where only patients arriving at hospitals whose lives are endangered may be treated. Estonia has among the highest level of coronavirus daily rates in Europe and one of the worst levels of vaccination coverage, while neighboring Latvia, in the same predicament, goes on full lock-down from tomorrow, Thursday.
Health minister Tanel Kiik (Center) said Wednesday that: "We can see the situation deteriorating and intensifying," adding that the number of hospitalizations has risen by 135 people in the past week, which is more than in the previous five weeks combined.
Ragnar Vaiknemets, head of the board's emergency staff, says an average of 60 coronavirus patients are admitted to the hospital per day at present which, if it continues, may necessitate even stricter restrictions than those put announced for next Monday.
Head of the family doctors' association (Perearstide selts) Le Vallikivi said: "[A] very bad [situation] will escalate into a disaster, as a tsunami."
The situation is exacerbated by healthcare staff burnout, with many workers leaving the sector, leaving fewer on duty in comparison with the first and second waves in 2020.
Vaiknemets: 'Estonia's epidemiological situation is one of the worst in Europe, vaccination coverage one of the lowest in the EU'
Ragnar Vaiknemets said that: "The third wave may hit us much more seriously than expected. Estonia's epidemiological situation is one of the worst in Europe, while our coverage of vaccination is among lowest in the EU."
Vaiknemets added that low vaccination rates and high levels of infection also affect the work of family doctors, whose entire efforts are focused on the virus and those infected, at the expense of other treatments and issues, while Le Vallikivi said: "Referral to a specialist will be more difficult than ever,"
Urmas Sule, the Health Board's (Terviseamet) emergency medicine department, says that the pandemic has hit the elderly especially hard just as the school half-term break arrives, meaning schoolchildren should not visit their grandparents and other elderly people at that time.
Board: Children should avoid contact with elderly relatives during half-term break
Ragnar Vaiknemets said: "Infection rates are growing, especially among the elderly, because children are taken to their parents. Please do not do that. We recommend limiting all our unnecessary moves, thinking about where we are going, who we will meet."
Vaiknemets added that 75 percent of those who die from complications relating to the virus are unvaccinated which, when one considers the bulk of those deaths are among the elderly – three-quarters of whom have been vaccinated, demonstrates very high mortality levels among th elderly. In October alone, 50 out of the 72 deaths were among unvaccinated people.
At the same time, fewer staff mean that the capacity to treat 700 patients who have severe coronavirus symptoms, while it was in place earlier, will no longer be available.
Vaiknemets: 600 hospitalized may be reached soon
"There is reason to believe that the point at which 600 people are in need of hospital treatment will be here soon," Vaiknemets added.
Of the staffing issues, Tanel Kiik said that: "Finding employees is now significantly more difficult than before."
The society of family physicians is, between October 27 and November 5, to hold a vaccination boost drive, where people can attend family doctors' centers even if they are not registered there, while home vaccinations will be provided to those who cannot make it out.
Still, while the current vaccination level is still too low, had it not been met, the crisis would be still more severe and with a far higher number of deaths, Vaiknemets said.
The third (of three) emergency levels of emergency healthcare will be implemented if there is a major crisis, making it a essentially a catastrophic situation where only those whose lives are threatened are likely to get emergency treatment.
Editor: Andrew Whyte